27 October 2014

S. Jorge old pier

Once the gateway to the Northern coast of the island, the old pier of S. Jorge remains today a testimony of hardship. From a time when, in absence of good roads, connecting the main locations of the island, the transportation of passengers and goods, from South to North, was assured by open hull wooden cargo boats called "carreireiros".
From those times a few piers still survive all over the island. Mainly used by tourists, looking for a photo opportunity, and by local fishermen, looking for the next catch.
Among them, S. Jorge's, located a short stroll away from Ribeira de S. Jorge's mouth, is probably the one with the most vertiginous access. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Pictures taken with Nikon D610 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AI lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

21 October 2014

Ribeira de S. Jorge mouth

The Ribeira de S. Jorge mouth, with its stream flowing directly to the sea, today at evening time, on the North coast of Madeira.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 10-20mm f/4-5.6 DC HSM. Cokin Neutral Density Degradé, ref. 122, P system. Manfrotto tripod and geared head. Post-processing in Nikon View NX2 an Adobe Lightroom, ver. 4.1

20 October 2014

Brunton ADC Pro - A short review

It didn't take a long time, on the course of my present professional occupation, for me to realize the need of up-to-date meteorological data.
When I was at sea, particularly during my period as a Deck Trainee (cadet) and also as a Second-Mate, some of my responsibilities were related to meteorological duties. Besides chart work (updating the navigation charts and correcting them), the correction of nautical publications, the care for the ships infirmary and a few more responsibilities that we "lower" deck-hand people have to perform in order to learn the trade and subsequently transit to a higher level of enlightenment, I had also at my care the nautical instruments. They were not so many, to be honest. Just enough equipment to allow us to measure the basic weather parameters: air temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity and wind direction and speed. To achieve this goal, a typical on-board weather station generally comprises one atmospheric thermometer, a barometer and a barograph, a hygrometer and one anemometer Commonly the hygrometer is replaced by the wet and dry bulb thermometer, less expensive and less prone to calibration errors. The only difference between the two is that instead of a direct reading (on the case of the hygrometer), you have to calculate the atmospheric RH by reading both data values (wet and dry) and compare them in a standard chart, normally placed on the instrument itself.
Far from being useful only at sea, a good knowledge and interpretation of these elemental atmospheric parameters can be quite practical also in our daily lives, easily transforming us in amateur meteorologists.
Well, at home, near the technology and information, this knowledge might seems redundant. After all, if we need to know the weather conditions for tomorrow we just have to read the newspaper. Or listen to the TV. Or check the web.
However, when you are far away from civilization, either at sea or on the high peaks of our Earth's highest massifs - in a word: away from that easily digested information - a general meteorological knowledge is not only mandatory: it can actually save your life.
Naturally there's only so much you can learn when you look at the skies, regardless of that visual information being already quite useful. To be more effective in weather interpretation, you have to actually know, with the best possible accuracy, those elemental parameters I've said before.
"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailors' delight."
There's only so much you can predict by using visualization combined with the old adages...
In the picture: peaceful red-painted evening sky over the high peaks of Madeira. A clear prognosis of the next day's weather trend.
To reach that higher level of enlightenment, you will need instruments that give you answers to those parameters we've spoke about. Combine them altogether in the same place and what you get is a meteorological (or weather) station. If space and weight is no object, as it is not on the bridge of a ship or on the deck of a fire lookout tower, you can have the luxury of a fixed station. On the other hand, if you are hiking or trekking in some remote wilderness, you'll thank the Lord for the miniaturization.
Because the portable (or handheld) weather stations are the answer to our weight and space limitations.
These products give you the chance, today, of taking to the field a more or less accurate forecasting equipment that will vastly improve your knowledge about the climate, therefore helping you to make a proper judgement of the weather surrounding you.
And I emphasize the "more or less" comment, because, like most instruments, its accuracy is directly dependent of two main factors:
You get what you pay for. As a rule of thumb: the more expensive the equipment the best it is.
You have to know what you are doing. You have to have a clear understanding of the equipment you own and also be able to interpret the data it gives you. To achieve both, you have to read its technical (or user's) manual and be proficient in meteorological knowledge.
From the several instruments existing on the market, I've chosen the Brunton ADC Pro. For two main reasons: it has the qualities I need, with the best (less) price, from a known brand.
Although I clearly doubt if this equipment is really made by Brunton - if you look around, you can see the exact equipment on sale from other makers, like the Swedish Silva - at least a well known label should give us some confidence on the product.
I won't go too far on the equipment's description. For that, you'll have plenty of info on the web. It's suffice to say that, for outdoor adventures, as long as you have an equipment that gives you barometric, air temperature, atmospheric humidity and wind speed readings you are well equipped. All the remaining functions are just software power embedded on the equipment. Just a way to make data more easily readable. Altimeter? The altimeter data is directly related to atmospheric pressure, hence to the barometer. Atmospheric pressure decreases roughly 1 mbar for each ten meters of altitude you climb. So you see, with a good, calibrated, barometer, all it takes is some math. Wind chill? Wind chill is a relation between air temperature and wind speed. There are tables for that. The software embedded on the equipment just makes the calculations for you. Get the picture?
Regarding the Brunton:
Well, I guess nothing is better to test an equipment than time. We are a society of easy consumption. And, nowadays, when we buy something we don't expect it to last. Although I understand that, somehow. This makes sense worldwide, since there are so many mouths to feed, dependent on the factories production. Brands all over the world should, nevertheless, be more proud of the durability of their products. Invest on it. Compromising durability is, ultimately, a compromise in quality.
Using this product for more than six years, on my professional life and occasionally on my leisure time, I can tell you that time is now taking its toll and this equipment is far from being great.
The Brunton ADC Pro is far from being a great handheld weather station. We can call it "competent", just for the sake of courtesy. After six years of use, always with the equipment protected - except in observation times - as you can see by the absence of marks on its screen, the Brunton accuses its age. The rubberized cover is collapsing and so are the push-buttons, which are becoming sticky, due to rubber deterioration. Not acceptable. The impeller, which is basically an half-sphere encased in the instrument's structure is now too loose. Under pressure from strong winds, it now closes by itself, difficulting readings.
The device has one IR port, to transmit data to a PC. For that, you have to order the IR USB Data Transmitter (eg: Amazon) and install the respective software on the computer. I have also to tell you: almost nothing on this equipment is user-friendly. Menus and sub-menus are not that intuitive. If you want to use it at its fullest bring the (at least) simplified manual with you. The PC software is simple and (as far as I know) it's only accepted up to Windows Vista. Beyond that you are on your own. Synchronizing PC with the ADC Pro is also not easy from the start. It takes some trial and error. To the best of my knowledge, after all these years the software was never updated. It's still on its original form.
As I've said previously, the software is very simple. No interaction with the equipment. It just receives its historical data, nothing more. Limited customization is possible.
The ADC Pro back panel, showing its battery compartment and cover (water-tightness granted by a rubber o-ring). To replace the battery (one CR2032 3 Volts), the cover is somehow stiff - probably due to the sealing o-ring - forcing us to use the tip of a knife's blade (gently) to remove it. Notice the impeller's half-sphere on its closed position. Missing a lock for the open and closed impeller's position. As you can see, the rubberized cover is nearly gone, giving the equipment a not-so-good looks.
It's accurate. Barometer and thermometer can be calibrated up to the tenths of the units. And tenths of units are also shown in the anemometer and hygrometer readings (sadly both these two values cannot be calibrated). From observation (comparing it with ship's stations) I've noticed often variations of up to 2 mbars on the barometer measurements and up to two degrees Celsius in air temperature. We can accept these discrepancies since the equipments on board are not exactly reference instruments. Just make sure, when taking measurements, that you leave the equipment steady for a couple of minutes, preferably on the shadow, for the best accuracy possible. The sensors are so sensible that, if you move or lightly shake it, changes on barometric and altitude reading are almost immediate. If we follow this rule, we can accept the precision given by the manufacturer as honest values.
Brunton ADC Pro reviews:
Comparison of the different ADC's:
Bottom line:
If your are tight on a budget, this equipment should suffice your needs. On the other hand, if money is no problem or if you are looking for a more durable piece of equipment, built for more intensive use (and paying for that the price of twice the cost), you should look at Kestrel. Good luck.

18 October 2014

Echoes of Switzerland

On 1998, during my InterRail Winter sojourn around Europe, I passed though Switzerland on my way to the Eastern countries. In a nation built over a dramatic orography, Swiss citizens had (and learnt) to be resourceful in order to occupy every inch of useful land available.
When the train left the station and the apparent safety of the green valley below, the alpine landscape unfolded before me and so did the human ingenuity to conquer it. The conventional train, unable to vanquish those steep gradients, was a black spot on the faraway station left behind, while our present transport, a cog train - similar to the former Caminho de Ferro do Monte, and wise replacement of the previous one - was leading me to the alpines meadows of the Kleine Scheidegg, right below the monstrous North face of the Ogre and well above the tree line.
On the way up, Milka look-a-like cows and farmers were both taking care of their own private businesses, two steps away from the nearest one-thousand-meter precipice with an easy-going attitude and tranquillity as if they were taking an evening stroll along the Lido Promenade.
At the time I thought this was as extreme as we humans could be. Well, as we all know, where there are humans (or cognitive animals, for that matter) there are also boundaries to be broken. And there are almost no limits to engineering.
On the particular subject of men versus orographic environment, Madeira is, hands down, our little Switzerland.
With a volcanic substrate carved by millions of years of erosive forces, Madeira's landscape is as dramatic as it can possibly be.
And also here the human inventiveness knows no limits in order to overcome the difficulties.
You need to carry heavy weights over a steep mountain trail, suitable only for people or pack animals, but you have to do it with some kind of motorized transportation?
Well, there's a solution for that too!
The reforestation operation taking place by these days along the mountain trail heading to the island's highest peak is being helped by a mechanized assistant, rarely seen in Madeira's "adventureland":
The Kubota KC110H, a small crawler dumper, built for restricted spaces, although not pretty, looked quite effective for the task.
Climbing the steps on the trail seemed to be the most delicate manoeuvre for the machine. Well, if you cannot ride it, you can always walk along with it. Just like motorbiking. On these particular parts of the trail, the additional grip given by the rubber caterpillar tracks makes a difference. It's hard to imagine that a cargo-carrying machine can advance through this terrain. Naturally, steady hands from the driver are paramount.
Pictures taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 DC HSM and Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Macro. Fill-flash (on the top picture) provided by Metz 54MZ-3 in Auto mode, with -2/3 EV correction. Post-processing of the original JPEG files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

08 October 2014

STS Pogoria

The sailing vessel Pogoria, from Poland, one of the few tall ships still in operation, reminder of a distant past at anchor in Machico bay, on a particularly calm afternoon, a few days ago.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 70-200mm 1:2.8D APO HSM equipped with Kenko MC UV 77mm filter.